Google’s engineers are now working with Unicef, the UN agency focused on improving the lives of vulnerable children around the world, to combat the growing public health threat posed by the Zika virus in South America.
Zika can cause birth defects and four fifths of those carrying the virus don’t show any symptoms. The primary transmitter for the disease, the Aedes mosquito species, is both widespread and hard to eliminate.
Jacquelline Fuller, a director at Google.org, the philanthropic division of the search engine giant, promised to help the battle by providing enhanced mapping data and more detailed online information about the mosquito-borne virus.
“That means that fighting Zika requires raising awareness on how people can protect themselves, as well as supporting organisations who can help drive the development of rapid diagnostics and vaccines.
“As a company whose mission is helping people find information, with a lot of experience in analysing large sets of data, we’re in a good position to help – at scale and at speed. So today we have Google engineers working with Unicef to analyse data to determine how to map and anticipate the virus.”
Fuller also said that Google has updated some its products to make Zika information more accessible. It is also providing Unicef with a $1m (£709,400) grant to help with its efforts on the ground.
Google also revealed that a volunteer team of Google engineers, designers, and data scientists is helping Unicef build an open source platform to process data from different sources (i.e. weather and travel patterns) in order to visualise potential outbreaks.
“Ultimately, the goal of this open source platform is to identify the risk of Zika transmission for different regions and help Unicef governments and NGO’s decide how and where to focus their time and resources,” added Fuller. “This set of tools is being prototyped for the Zika response, but will also be applicable to future emergencies.
“We hope these efforts are helpful in fighting this new public health emergency, and we will continue to do our part to help combat this outbreak,”
The Google development of an open source platform to help Unicef with Zika comes after the UN agency announced last month that it would fund startups to develop open source tech to improve the lives of vulnerable children and civilians.
That funding will be concentrated on three core areas such as infrastructure improvement, products for young people, and decision-making information. Google has often taken a lead role in providing tech resources for humanitarian crises and natural disasters.
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